What is stroke?
A stroke results when the blood supply to the brain becomes disrupted. As a result, nerve cells in the brain become starved of oxygen and they die.
Depending on the part of the brain affected, that can lead to different symptoms in the patient, ranging from changes in personality through to changes in their ability to control the fine muscle movements involved in speech, for example.
Why does stroke happen?
One common reason for a stroke is when one of the narrow blood vessels supplying the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot. We can therefore consider stroke as a cardiovascular disease: a disease of our blood vessels.
While the brain is the organ that is affected by stroke, sometimes the origination of the blood clot can be some distance away, such as in the heart. For example, a very common cause is when the left atrium of the heart starts to malfunction and doesn’t pump blood as effectively as it should.
As a result, blood starts to stagnate in the left atrium, and when blood stagnates it clots. If part of that large clot in the atrium breaks off, it starts to travel through the blood vessels. When it reaches one of the narrow blood vessels supplying the brain it blocks it and that results in a stroke.
How do the different biomedical sciences relate to stroke?
Scientific researchers working in a whole host of different areas in the field of biomedical science contribute to broadening our understanding of stroke. Click on the links below to see some examples of how this might happen.
Scientists who have studied medical physiology could be looking at developing an understanding of the cardiovascular system under healthy conditions, asking questions such as: How is the cardiovascular system regulated? What changes take place there? What changes in the heart of patients to cause the left atrium to malfunction?
Scientists in the field of molecular genetics study the processes in which characteristics are passed on from generation to generation. In the case of stroke, they might look at why some people are more susceptible to stroke than others, asking: Is it in our genes?
Scientists working in the area of anatomy might be considering how the blood supply to the brain is arranged. This will allow us to predict what the consequences might be of a particular blood vessel becoming blocked, which part of the brain will be affected and what symptoms this might produce in a patient.
Scientists working in the area of developmental biology might be asking questions such as: How does the brain develop when we are younger? What happens when nerve cells die in the brain? The popular view is that when a nerve cell dies, it’s gone forever. However, developmental biologists are exploring whether it might be possible to replace damaged nerve cells, for example using stem cells.
Researchers in the field of biochemistry will be looking at the chemical changes that occur inside nerve cells when they become starved of oxygen. They will be asking questions such as: Why do the nerve cells die and what chemical processes occur to cause this to happen? For example, we know that cell death occurs when the concentration of calcium ions inside the cell gets too high, but why?
Scientists working in the area of neuroscience will be investigating topics ranging from how an individual nerve cell is controlled through to how the activity of billions of neurons is coordinated to shape our emotions or memories. They might be interested in which part of the brain performs which function, allowing us to predict what the consequences of a stroke might be for an individual and offering insights into how we might most effectively treat patients who have suffered a stroke.
Researchers working in the area of pharmacology will be trying to develop approaches to treating stroke using drugs. This could include developing drugs to break down a blood clot; or to minimize the likelihood of a clot forming in the first place; or to make the left atrium pump blood more effectively.
Scientists who have studied biomedical engineering will be using their expertise and knowledge of the physics of engineering to develop new imaging techniques. These can be used to carry out brain scans that will allow us develop a better understanding of which parts of the brain have become affected during a stroke, which might impact on how we best treat individual patients.
Biomedical Science: a broader view
If you find yourself particularly drawn to one of these scientific areas, you can study an undergraduate course in any of these disciplines at King’s College London.
However, if you’re still not quite sure which area you want to specialise in, you can also study towards a degree in Biomedical Science. This generic degree allows you to choose different aspects of these different disciplines and put them together in a programme of study that suits you, your interests and your career aspirations.
In addition, students on all of these programmes – with the exception of Biomedical Engineering - follow the same first year at King’s (“common year one”). This allows a great deal of flexibility as you can change from one of these to any of the other Common Year One programmes after the first year as your interests develop.
Find out more about our Biomedical Science BSc.